“Peter and the Starcatcher” at the Zig in Ogden is Sprinkled with Magic!

By Jennifer Mustoe

I got a little teary after Ogden’s Ziegfeld Theater’s production of Peter and the Starcatcher, a play about how Peter Pan becomes the crowing, flying leader of the Lost Boys and battles the sociopathic Captain Hook. Does Peter Pan mean something to you? He does to me—he’s part of my childhood. I have been trying to see Peter and the Starcatcher several times and just didn’t get it together, but wanted to see how it compared to the YA novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Peterson I enjoyed years ago when it first came out. I had preconceived notions of what I thought this production would be. I was right maybe 10% of the show.

And I’m thrilled that I didn’t know what I was talking about.

I’d never been to the Ziegfeld Theater in Ogden, but it’s a clear, lovely drive coming from Spanish Fork. As I walked into the theater, swarms of folks were in the rather cozy lobby, some buying tickets, some buying fresh popcorn. Yum! The staff is super nice and in fact, during the (rather long) intermission, someone from the staff brought around a teeny tiny treasure chest and gave a pirate treat (a small coin or tattoo) to the children. And me. Yes, I got a tattoo, too. By intermission, these kids were sold on the entire pirate experience and that little treasure chest got all the kids glowing. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Based on the YA novel, Peter and the Starcatcher places 13-year-old Molly (Jessica Lewis) (or is it 15? Inside joke—see the show to figure it out) on the slower vessel, Neverland, with a trunk of full of mysterious treasure. It looks like sand, but it isn’t. It’s Star Stuff (aka pixie dust—but this is never said. We who know Peter Pan stories know it, though.) On a faster vessel, the Wasp, sails Molly’s father, Lord Astor (David A. Boice) who has his own treasure chest filled with jewels. In come pirates, led by the ridiculously funny Black Stache (Trent Cox) who may have one of the best performances going on in the state of Utah right now. Trunks are swapped, havoc ensues.

Along with the pirates are three boys: Prentiss, played by a very funny Tyler Howard, Ted, played by a great physical comedian Gabriel Armstrong, and Boy, heart-warmingly played by Wyatt Welch, orphans all, who end up on the ship as slaves and are made to sit in the dark and eat worms. Yes, worms. Ick. These three characters are perfect together. The symmetry and synergy are unbeatable. I thought this was a musical and when I saw the live band at the back of the stage, I was sure. But Peter and the Starcatcher is only a sort of musical. It starts with a lot of exposition—telling the story. For the first few minutes, I felt anxious, like, when are they going to start singing? Then, it didn’t matter. I was involved in the show. However, the fabulous musicians (Piano/conductor Jonathon McDonald, Percussion Richard Marsh, Synthesizer Kyle Lawrence) provide background music throughout—which is marvelous. They play as you walk into the theater, too, and it is sublime. And there are a few ensemble musical numbers and the fish-turned-mermaid piece is absolutely delightfully hilarious. Kids and adults were clapping and whistling during this one. What the cast can do with fans and costuming that makes one piece of stretch fabric down one leg look like a fish fin is fantastic. Kudos to Costume Designer Kelsey Nichols.

Peter and the Starcatcher moves very, very fast—there’s a lot of story in this one little play. And director Jim Christian has his players moving, moving, moving all the time. Not in a weird, frantic way, but one that helps tell the story and keep us up to speed (small pun intended.) Timing is fabulous in this show and every cast member needs to be applauded. I’ve been to too many shows that l-a-g-g-e-d and I thought I would die of boredom. Not in this show. At. All. Thank you, to the director. This could easily have been a train wreck. The Zig’s Peter is anything but.

The cast is small—twelve players in all—and many play multiple roles, which confused me slightly, but not overly so. Everyone was wonderful, great synergy onstage. But shout-outs must go to Welch, whose last moments on the stage brought me to tears. No, I’m not telling you what he did. Go see it. And you probably won’t cry. It’s sweet, not sad. Welch is fabulous—good energy, sweet, vulnerable, strong, active. I bought him in this role completely. Lewis’ Molly is so sweet and brave and strong. Yes, Lost Boys, she’s the leader. This show is so filled with Girl Power all wrapped up in the one female role in all those males and the one brilliant actress in this group of great actors.  Heavily bearded Andrew Cole’s Mrs. Bumbrake makes you laugh just from his physical look—but he’s a great actor, too. The role is written that a man play this character and Cole is darling. Big, hairy, using a falsetto voice (and a Scottish accent as the mermaid Teacher—also great), Cole nails this part.

Cox as Black Stache is so crazy good, I am hoping this review compels you to get to Ogden and see this show. Cox is an amazing comic actor, with deftness, finesse, timing, physicality to die for. I could go on and on. I will be following this actor to see him as often as possible. My husband and I recently went to Utah Shakespeare Festival and watched Guys and Dolls TWICE. Our favorite actor in that show has no more talent, timing, or presence than does Cox. Yes folks, he’s that good.

The set (Caleb Parry) was serviceable in the small space and several rolling pieces are used wisely and effectively. I loved the big golden lake effect with a parachute and a golden light. LOVED. This show is heavy with lights. Often, lighting is just so mundane that you don’t notice it and that’s good. But Peter has so many light cues, so many lights and it was amazing. Parry was the genius behind this technical aspect of the show, too.

I’m not telling much of the story in this review. This is on purpose. Each story detail is delicious and I’m not giving anything away.

About the kiddos. The show is long (two hours?) and there were some very restless toddlers in the audience. This show is too good. Get a babysitter and come and enjoy it without having to worry about the littles. I would think kids over six or seven would like this show, but it isn’t a kids’ show, per se. There is one swear in it (damn, I think) and the mermaid number has only one female mermaid but all the rest only dress like female mermaids. Or mermen. Not sure. It’s funny, but just a heads up. The kids were laughing hysterically. There is a small snip of a scene where Boy is shown to be whipped. It is short and has no real sound effects or him in agony at the beating, but he does cry afterward. If your children are tender-hearted, take them out for a potty break during this scene or leave them at home.

I live a long way away and see lots of shows. If I could make it work, I’d go see this one again. I didn’t see Peter and the Starcatcher when it came around three different times. I am so remarkably glad I waited until I got to see it at the Zig.

The Ziegfeld Theater presents Peter and the Starcatcher by Rick Elice.                          Ziegfeld Theater, 3934 S. Washington Blvd., Ogden, UT 84403                                   August 4-September 2, Mon, Fri, Sat 7:30 PM Saturday matinee August 26, 2:30 PM     Tickets: $17-20                                                                                                                   Call: 855-ZIG-ARTS / 855-944-2787                                                                           Facebook Page          Facebook Event

Lyric Rep Brings Mark Twain Classic to Logan on a “Big River”

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By Lori Geisler

Big River: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, known more commonly as simply Big River, is playing in repertoire with three other productions at the Caine Lyric Theatre in Logan until August 5, 2017. Listed on the Utah State Historical Register, the theatre was restored and expanded in 2000. Gorgeous and ornate moldings, chandeliers, and red velvet seats give an elegant feeling to the interior. Even with its bluegrass music and country twang, Big River seems at home amongst the sophisticated surroundings.

Based on The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, Big River tells the story of  Huck (Cameron Blankenship)  and his friend, a runaway slave named Jim (Paul-Jordan Jansen), who have “considerable trouble and considerable joy” as they float on a raft down the Mississippi River. They meet a variety of characters, including slave hunters, con men, and three sweet sisters. Along the way they discover a lot about friendship, each other, and themselves.

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During a time period when musicals from Great Britain were seeing great success, Big River was one of the few American musicals to receive acclaim. Opening on Broadway on April 25, 1985, the show ran for more than 1,000 performances and closed on September 20, 1987. It was nominated for ten Tony Awards and won seven, including Best Musical, Best Book by William Hauptman, and Best Original Score by Roger Miller. This is the only Broadway Score that Miller wrote. Known as a country singer with chart-topping country and pop hits in the mid-60s such as “King of the Road” and “Dang Me”, Miller is also remembered as the voice of Alan-a-Dale, the rooster minstrel in Walt Disney’s 1973 animated film, Robin Hood. His memorable toe-tapping and soul-stirring songs compliment Mark Twain’s poignant classic impeccably.

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With youthful exuberance and a charming Southern twang, Blankenship is delightful as the rambunctious vagabond, Huck. Narrating his own story, he often speaks directly to the audience, giving each member a sense of being personally invested in the story. With a sly smile and a wink, he also sends the message that he is letting you in on a special secret. Stirring and profound, Jansen’s performance as the runaway slave is inspiring. With such exciting duets as, “Muddy Water,” “River in the Rain,” and “Worlds Apart,” the duo show their growing friendship and bond. Unfortunately, Jansen’s volume seemed muted; perhaps his mic needed to be turned up or was working improperly. His smooth musical skill came through, but the power was missing. Despite this, his performance of “Free At Last” brought tears to my eyes. The Duke (Michael W.D. Francis) and The King (Chris Klinger) are the con men that had me laughing one minute and made me furious the next. Their performance of “When the Sun Goes Down in the South” had me tapping my toe and grinning from ear to ear. Mary Jane Wilkes (Katie Francis) touched my heart with her beautiful voice in “You Oughta Be Here with Me” and “Leavin’s Not the Only Way to Go.” She also shows the broad range of her musical ability, playing fiddle in the live band. Other cast members double as band members as well, including Susan Wilkes (Clarissa Boston), who plays fiddle and Tom Sawyer (Justin Turpin), who plays guitar.

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Although I have seen many productions of Big River, I have never seen it completely performed with a live band. Some of the songs in this show have a very quick tempo, and there are many times when the band seems to have a difficult time keeping up. The versatility of the musicians is impressive, however, as many of them play multiple instruments.

Shawn Fisher designed a brilliant open-ended set that changes very little throughout the production, and yet feels different as it adapts to the various scenes and settings. Natural and rustic, the backdrop matches the tone of the show perfectly, inspiring imagination in the minds of the audience. Lighting designed by Bruce Duerden works together with the simple set, creating illusions and transforming the pieces into lush scenery. Acting as Director, Musical Director, and Choreographer, Jim Christian brings all of these elements together to create a cohesive performance with splendid continuity. His creative use of pantomime to suggest props that are non-existent adds to the imaginative feeling this production invokes again and again.

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You MUST see Big River at least once in your lifetime. You will fall in love with the music, and the story will change you. The Lyric Repertory Company will present their production at the Caine Lyric Theatre for a few more weeks, and as the show begins you will receive this warning by Mark Twain (W. Vosco Hall): “Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot. By order of the Author, Mark Twain.”

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Lyric Repertory Company presents Big River: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Music and Lyrics by Roger Miller, Book by William Hauptman, adapted from the novel by Mark Twain

The Caine Lyric Theatre, 28 West Center Street, Logan, UT 84321

July 17, 25, August 3, 5, 7:30 PM, July 29, 1:00 PM

Tickets $20-35

435-797-8022

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